Tag Archives: Erika Feller

UNHCR Calls on EU to Improve Rescue at Sea Measures; NATO Should Also Actively Participate in Rescue at Sea in Regard to All Overcrowded Boats

UNHCR issued a statement on Friday, 8 April, calling “on the European Union to urgently put into place more reliable and effective mechanisms for rescue-at-sea” in the aftermath of last week’s disaster that saw “[m]ore than 220 Somali, Eritrean and Ivorian refugees drowned early on Wednesday morning when their boat capsized some 39 nautical miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. This is the worst such incident in the Mediterranean in recent years.  ‘It is hard to comprehend that at a time when tens of thousands are fleeing the Libyan conflict and pouring across the land borders into Tunisia and Egypt where they enjoy safety and receive shelter and aid, the protection of people fleeing via Libya’s maritime border does not appear to have the same priority’ said Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller.” “‘We also appeal to shipmasters to continue to render assistance to those in distress at sea. Any overcrowded boat leaving Libya these days should be considered to be in distress’ [, said Feller.]”

While NATO was not mentioned in the UNHCR statement, the call for improved measures to save the lives of migrants who flee North Africa by boat should also be heard and considered by the NATO Maritime Command Naples which is conducting the maritime embargo of Libya known as Operation Unified Protector.   NATO has a significant naval force patrolling the area through which migrant boats leaving Libya are passing and this force should be actively engaged in protecting fleeing civilians.  (Click here for earlier post regarding NATO’s maritime embargo.)

While UN Security Council Resolution 1973 does not speak directly to this issue, it does call for the protection of civilians.  Relevant portions from Security Council Resolution 1973:

  • “Expressing [the Security Council’s] determination to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian populated areas and the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance and the safety of humanitarian personnel, [***];
  • Reiterating [the Security Council’s] concern at the plight of refugees and foreign workers forced to flee the violence in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, welcoming the response of neighbouring States, in particular Tunisia and Egypt, to address the needs of those refugees and foreign workers, and calling on the international community to support those efforts, [***];
  • Protection of civilians – 4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,… [***].”

As with UNHCR’s call to EU states, NATO ships should also render assistance to any migrant boat detected by NATO forces – any overcrowded boat leaving Libya should be considered to be in distress.

Click here for UNHCR statement.

Click here for article.

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Filed under European Union, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, UNHCR

Erika Feller’s Comments Regarding Boat People and Irregular Secondary Movements

During her annual address to the UNHCR’s Executive Committee on 6 October, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller reviewed significant protection issues over the past year, noting also that 2010 marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the UNHCR in December 1950 and the 59th anniversary of the Refugee Convention.

Among the topics she addressed were the challenges posed by the arrival of irregular secondary movements of migrants, including boat people.  She is critical of interdiction practices being carried out throughout the world and makes the strong point that “[t]he evidence suggests that tough sea policies have not solved, just changed and indeed complicated the dynamics, of irregular movements.”  While Ms. Feller does not identify countries by name, she is apparently referencing increased maritime interdiction in the Aegean Sea and the resulting surge in irregular crossings along Greece’s land borders.  The point could also be made in regard to the Italian push-back practice.

Excerpts from her address:

“Arrivals of undocumented migrants continue to test the capacity of States, with the problem of so-called “irregular secondary movement” exacerbated in recent years by boat arrivals. The Pacific, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean or the Gulf of Aden are all regular theatres, with ‘boatpeople’ being interdicted, intercepted, turned around, ignored by passing ships, shot at, or denied landing. Even when rescued, disembarkation somewhere has no guarantees attached, as an incident currently playing out off the Somalia/Djibouti coasts starkly reminds us.

All this is seriously at odds not only with protection principles but also with the reality that when they manage to gain access to territory and asylum processes, a large percentage of asylum-seekers who come by boat are actually found to be refugees. …

Boat arrivals can provoke fears and high emotions which may be difficult for Governments to manage. However, in our experience, an approach built predominantly around closing borders and trying to prevent movement is not the answer, as it does not work. In fact it can make situations even more difficult to deal with. Developments in relation to one country that has pursued a tough policy towards boats are actually quite revealing. While arrivals by sea are dramatically down, arrivals by land have basically doubled. In addition, while sea arrivals had been able to be concentrated through being channeled to one main reception point, land arrivals now come through multiple crossing points and have been able to disperse more effectively and rapidly through the community, below any radar screen. The evidence suggests that tough sea policies have not solved, just changed and indeed complicated the dynamics, of irregular movements….

The phenomenon of refugees on the move for non-protection reasons is also growing. Numbers and categories vary with the regions but the concern is global. On the African continent, where camps are more the norm than the exception, it is preoccupying that camp environments are starting to be compromised by a form of transit migration to and through them, with refugees, and others, seeking to use their facilities for R&R en route to a more distant destination. Just as concerning has been the misuse of reception centers as way-stations, or even lucrative recruitment opportunities for smugglers and traffickers. These facts are not a rationale for abandoning camps or centers. They are, though, a solid reason to rethink how better to manage them within a burden sharing framework….”

Click here for full address.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, European Union, Greece, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News, Statements, UNHCR